The last weeks of the semester, when students anxiously begin preparing for final exams, constitute one of the most stressful periods of Princeton undergraduate life. While the University has taken a number of steps to help alleviate student stress, the Editorial Board believes that the implementation of a self-scheduled exam policy would greatly improve Princeton’s finals period. Schools such as Haverford, Caltech, Williams and Carleton already use self-scheduled exams, which students can choose to take during any one of multiple prescheduled sittings. Implementation of such a policy at Princeton would afford students greater flexibility, eliminate the need for take-homes, make exams fairer and decrease student stress.
The Board recognizes that exam performance can be as much a reflection of a student’s schedule as his or her aptitude. A student with three back-to-back exams at the beginning of finals week is at a significant disadvantage compared to classmates who may only be taking one exam. This reality encourages students to pick classes not based on interest but on whether they conclude with finals, take-home exams or papers. The option to self-schedule exams would solve this problem by giving students the time they need between each test.
Additionally, a self-scheduling system would give students that have to travel more flexibility. Travel during winter break and Intersession can be expensive and complicated. Airfare for certain days of the week is significantly more expensive than for others, and allowing students control over their finals schedules would help avoid high costs without cutting into vacation time. Furthermore, Princeton’s unusual academic schedule often conflicts with summer internships and programs that start in the middle of May, when most colleges end their academic year. The ability to move spring exams to the beginning of the week would allow Princeton students to more easily take advantage of these opportunities.
Another benefit to a self-scheduling option would be the elimination of closed-note take-home exams. The Honor Code gives students a dual responsibility — to uphold academic honesty in their own work and to report violations by others. Take-home exams only invoke the first requirement of the Honor Code because they are generally taken in solitude. The risk of getting caught cheating on a take-home exam is significantly lower than during an in-class exam, and the Board believes that cheating on take-homes is relatively widespread. Closed-note or timed take-home exams therefore penalize those students who adhere to the rules. This situation is exacerbated by a grade deflation policy that increases perceived competition among students. With a self-scheduling option, professors could afford their students the flexibility of a take-home exam without this heightened risk of cheating.
Self-scheduled exams admittedly involve other risks. A student taking an exam in an early sitting could give information about the test to friends in later sittings. But this type of cheating would implicate more than one person and th erefore would invoke both parts of the Honor Code. Overall, the benefits of an exam system that rewards aptitude and not stamina or good scheduling outweigh the potential drawbacks.